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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

6 June 2011

Australasia Budget Update

“A descent into budget anarchy” or “How not to budget”
Written by Maureen, ex-Financial Director of M&M

Disclaimer: This budget post-mortem contains explicit despair.

So… what went wrong?
A: Australia is expensive.
B: The exchange rate is lousy.
C: It’s a whole continent and we only had a few weeks
D: A complete failure in self control
E: All of the above

We ended our tour of Asia congratulating ourselves for being £1,000 below budget. We left Australia and New Zealand shell-shocked and £3,300 in the red. And that’s after I’ve cooked the books and taken a few very expensive things (like internal flights) out of the equation. In actual fact, we overspent by £5,300 over 14 weeks in Australasia. This is the story of our budget, and how it got shot down in flames down under.

We spent ten days in and around Sydney, at the beginning and the end of our trip. We averaged a modest £113 per day, including a 4-day car hire.

For our first week in Western Australia, we were spoilt rotten by Matt’s parents and spent very little. But we soon found that trying to stay in budget in Australia was not easy. Still, we were very determined and bargained hard, always looking for the cheapest options and checking the price of every supermarket purchase. I remember passing up a lovely cottage and opting for a cold hostel to save £10. Luckily, we didn’t have to pay for the car hire (thanks again, Carol and Geoff) though the 4×4 guzzled petrol like an alcoholic on wheels. By careful management, we did stay (just about) under budget, spending on average £98 per day, but it was a hard and cheerless time.

Surely New Zealand would be easier! We spent just under a month on South Island and, again, were pampered by Matt’s parents for the first week. Our car was a good deal even if we weren’t too keen on the bold paintwork advertising, but alas it never made it to the end of the trip. It gave up the ghost with only four days to go and we had to rent a replacement from a different company for 240% the price of the first (thanks, Jucy, for leaving us in a lurch). Accommodation was on average £52 per night and mostly lovely, including motels, a tourist park, hostels, our own three-bed period house, a tranquil waterside lodge, and a night on a floating boat. In the end, our average spend was £144 per day. Could do better.

We also spent four days in Auckland at the very end of our trip to Australasia. Prices here were on a par with South Island, the main difference being that we didn’t hire a car. We made up for this by spending a lot more on food – I still can’t work out how. Average spend £143 per day.

For our ten days in Tasmania, we again hired a car. Food, car and petrol, came to £68 a day, so surely we managed to stay in budget? Wrong. After a couple of very cold nights in wet Hobart, we decided to stop being so stingy and adopt a new philosophy: enjoy, not endure! Besides, the wildlife we were so keen to see live in wilderness areas, and the sort of accommodation available there (unless you mean to camp) was not generally cheap. In the end, a place to sleep cost on average £84 per night which, of course, completely blew our budget. However, we did stay in some memorable places such as Old Wesleydale in Mole Creek. We also bought several bottles of fine Tassie wine. All in all, our average spend was £165 per day. Whoops!

In Victoria and South Australia, car, petrol and food were all more expensive than Tasmania. Also, the temptation to pop into cafes or stock up on tasty deli snacks, particularly in the cities, was just too much for Matt’s self-control. We stayed in some lovely places here too, including a retro cabin on the Great Ocean road. We toured for nineteen days but despite lots of self-catering we on average spent £178 per day. Now, surely it can’t get worse than that?

We debated long and hard over a visit to the red centre. In the end, we went for six nights. I’m glad we did because the experience was unforgettable, the problem is it was also very very expensive. We needed a 4×4 to negotiate the dirt roads, and at £75 per day plus the £58 for petrol (vast, vast distances), we were already over-budget even if we slept in the car and ate only roadkill. Prices of accommodation, as you can imagine, are sky-high in the middle of nowhere. We managed to save a few pounds by avoiding the over-priced resort which serves Uluru and staying in a ranch an hour’s drive away, but it was all a bit futile. Food cost around £37 per day but even that wasn’t much of a consolation since it was all depressingly rubbish. Per day cost averaged £259, the nadir of our budget adventure.

Now, let’s fill in the gaps (no, no, it’s not over yet). Those of you paying attention will be wondering how we travelled between different far-flung places. Well, we spent a total of £468 on four internal flights, £197 on a return ferry to Kangaroo Island (ouch, that one really hurt), and £257 travelling by train from Adelaide to Alice Springs in the cheap seats. I wish I could say that the train journey was worth it but it wasn’t. Next time, I would fly and save both time and money.

In conclusion, yes, Australia was expensive. We were also hamstrung by the poor exchange rate – at the time of our visit, Oz was a more costly destination than the US. We wanted to see much of the country in fourteen weeks and the only way to do so was to take internal flights. We needed a car to travel independently and go off the beaten track. We self-catered for most of our time in both countries, but food was expensive nonetheless. So I can’t see how we could have done things differently except by submitting to discomfort and only staying in backpacker hostels. But it seemed a shame to pass up on some of the lovely places Australia and New Zealand had to offer for the sake of a few shillings. Well, I suppose we could have spent less on wine, and that’s why the answer to the multiple-choice question at the top of this post is E: All of the above.

A note on special fun
We didn’t do much with our special fun budget in Australia – three nice meals, Rachmaninov at the Sydney Opera House, and a couple of animal-related activities was all. Yet, that all added up to £441. Go figure!

In New Zealand, on the other hand, we splurged and took part in almost every activity on offer (short of bungy jumping). We went tramping, glacier walking, kayaking, jet-boating, whale watching, not-swimming-with-dolphins and more besides. What excellent value for £673!


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